Victory! The right to bike on the riverwalk is preserved. Now about those “No Biking” signs…
9:39 PM CDT on October 8, 2019
Ah, autumn: the crisp air, the turning leaves, the savory aroma of pumpkin spice SPAM.
But you know what the best part of this year's transition from summer to fall was from my perspective? The fact that Streetsblog Chicago, with support from many other local bike advocates, was able to stop downtown alderman Brendan Reilly from following through on his threat to ban cycling on the Chicago Riverwalk this summer.
Streetsblog readers know the strange saga of the riverwalk bike ban well by now, but here's a quick rehash. The promenade was originally promoted and funded as a bike and pedestrian facility, but a year ago Alderman Reilly introduced an ordinance to ban cycling on the facility. This spring, at the alderman’s request, the Chicago Department of Fleet and Facility Management, which manages the riverwalk, instructed security guards to tell cyclists biking anywhere on the path that it was illegal to ride there, and order them to dismount. After I took a ride on the esplanade wearing a t-shirt pointing out that this enforcement was invalid, because Reilly’s legislation still hadn’t become law, he vowed to get it passed by September 23.
Thanks for the reminder - I’ll be sure to pass the ordinance this summer.
— Brendan Reilly (@AldReilly) May 24, 2019
Streetsblog Chicago tirelessly beat the drum on this subject. To be honest, some folks agued I spent too much time on the issue. But, along with other advocates, most notably the Active Transportation Alliance, we succeeded in getting the de-facto bike ban lifted in June, after a Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman acknowledged that biking on the riverwalk is still legal “when the Riverwalk is not congested.” And since the autumnal equinox has come and gone without Reilly so much as introducing the ordinance in committee, it's clear that his legislation is going nowhere fast.
As such, I'm resolving to bury the hatchet with Alderman Reilly, even though he referred to me as a "troll" on Twitter on a couple of occasions due to my advocacy on the issue. In fairness, Reilly occasionally does positive things for biking (when he's not busy trying to block Divvy stations, bike lanes, Lakefront Trail underpasses, and pedicabs.) And have you checked out Reilly's Twitter feed? No joke -- the man is often hilarious.
Michelle Woods, an assistant project manager with Fleet and Facility Management, essentially confirmed that Reilly's 24/7/365 riverwalk bike ban is off the table. "The city is committed to keeping the Chicago Riverwalk safe and regulated for all [emphasis added] residents and visitors to enjoy," she said via email. "Currently, the Chicago Department of Transportation and Fleet and Facility Management are working closely with the Active Transportation Alliance to develop and implement riverwalk rules and regulations pertaining to bicycles, scooters and other mobility devices. These regulations are aimed at keeping all people using the riverwalk safe and, if approved, will inform new signage planned for 2020.”
In a July radio interview, Reilly indicated that he'd softened his position on a total bike ban somewhat. With the cool heads at Active Trans involved in the negotiations, hopefully a reasonable compromise will be reached, such as only requiring cyclists to walk their bikes within the crowded cafe districts, during the warmer months, at peak use times. I would totally support such a policy. Otherwise, Streetsblog Chicago will continue to make noise about any unfair restrictions on biking on the bike/ped path until the unjust clampdown is, once again, overturned.
In the long term, all concerned parties, including Reilly, have expressed support for swapping a lane or two of mixed-traffic lanes on Upper Wacker Drive for protected bike lanes, which would help relieve crowding on the riverwalk, although it's not clear how a safe and comfortable route from the shoreline path to Upper Wacker would be created. If you’d like to get involved with the project, contact Active Trans' Steve Simmons, firstname.lastname@example.org, 312-216-0472.
So now that it's clear biking isn't going to be totally banned, and it's nearly four months after CDOT said it's legal to cycle on the riverwalk, why are there still signs on the promenade reading "Share the riverwalk: Walk your bike"? And what about the placards posted at the riverwalk that inaccurately state that bike riders will be prosecuted? Wouldn't it make sense for someone to file a lawsuit on behalf of local cyclists against the city for having signs up that make a false threat of prosecution for legal behavior?
"No need for a lawsuit John!" Woods responded. "We were trying to be efficient with our resources and only replace the signs once." But the new signs won't be posted until next year. Why not simply cover up the erroneous text on the existing signs at the entrances, and remove the signs on the riverwalk telling cyclists to walk their bikes? That would be a low-cost option option that could be easily done by one staffer in a single afternoon.
Woods said she would look into this (totally commonsense) option. I'll provide an update next week.
But the important thing is that cyclists are currently free to bike on the riverwalk without being hassled, and it looks any future restrictions will be sensible ones. Streetsblog Chicago couldn't have helped make that happen without financial support from our readers, so if you appreciate this win, please consider clicking the link below to donate to our current fund drive. Thanks for your support!
In addition to editing Streetsblog Chicago, John writes about transportation and other topics for additional local publications. A Chicagoan since 1989, he enjoys exploring the city on foot, bike, bus, and 'L' train.
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